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Kunsthalle Bern Presents Chasing Shadows Santu Mofokeng Thirty Years of Photographic Essays

Kunsthalle Bern present Santu Mofokeng’s first international retrospective. A leading South African photographer, Mofokeng consistently subverts the alleged certainties of cultural and racial histories, questioning photography’s politics of representation and its objectivity, in works dealing with a variety of issues; religious rituals, memorials or desolate landscapes. Mofokeng’s black-and-white photographs are lasting images of humanity, recording not just adversity and oppression, but also happy moments and the indomitable human spirit. Exhibition open 8 October–27 November 2011.

Santu Mofokeng was born in 1956 in Johannesburg and started his career as a street photographer in Soweto during Apartheid. He was a member of the Afrapix collective, which fought Apartheid by presenting documentary photographs on the resistance movement and the desolate social conditions in 1980s South Africa. Over the course of ten years, Mofokeng worked as a research- and documentary-photographer at the Institute for Advanced Social Research (formerly the African Studies Institute) at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1989 he decided to no longer photograph for journalistic purposes, but rather to document everyday life in South Africa’s townships. He asked black families for permission to copy their old family pictures from the years between 1890 and 1950, in order to counter the representation of black people as backward and rural in publications that were financed by the Apartheid-state (e. g. the tourist’s brochure Native Life in South Africa, 1936). By showcasing the diversity of black family life, with his Black Photo Album, Mofokeng created an invaluable cultural archive.

Mofokeng’s photographs have been shown all over the world in landmark exhibitions: for instance, at documenta 11 in Kassel, and in the touring exhibition The Short Century, Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa: 1945–1994. His works were also presented at the Sharjah Biennial, the Gwangju Biennial, as well as at Rencontres de Bamako, Biennale Africaine de la Photographie.
Santu Mofokeng lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern is organised in collaboration with Jeu de Paume (Paris), Extracity Kunsthal Antwerpen, and Bergen Kunsthall (Bergen) and is supported by Vlaams-Nederlands Huis deBuren, Brussels and the Institut Français, Paris, the Südkulturfonds and the Gubler-Hablützel Foundation, Switzerland.

A comprehensive monograph, co-published by Kunsthalle Bern, Jeu de Paume, Extracity Kunsthal Antwerpen, Bergen Kunsthall and Prestel Verlag, provides an overview of Santu Mofokeng’s extensive and multi-faceted body of work both as a photographer and as an author. Mofokeng’s texts revolve around the same topics as his photography work, and they highlight his personal perspective and position as an outside observer. An interview by curator Corinne Diserens with Santu Mofokeng, as well as essays by Adam Ashforth, Okwui Enwezor, Sarat Maharaj, Patricia Hayes, Sabine Vogel, and Ivan Vladislavic allow for a profound encounter with Mofokeng’s art and its contexts.

Sven Augustijnen
Kunsthalle Bern co-produced Spectres, a film by highly regarded Belgian artist Sven Augustijnen (born in 1970). Shown in Bern together with Santu Mofokeng’s retrospective, it concludes the exhibition series The Idea of Africa (re-invented), which started in 2010. Spectres, a documentary film essay (90 min), recalls one of the darkest chapters in the decolonisation of the Belgian Congo: the events which lead to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister. The film is constructed in the form of a voyage with main character Jacques Brassinne de La Buissière, a former high-ranking civil servant and protagonist in the political and humanitarian ‘thriller’ that unfurled after the hasty decolonisation decision. He acts simultaneously as guide, commentator and symbolic figure, and we follow him through many crucial historical sites and symbolical moments. In the course of these peregrinations, questions arise about the manifest and hidden motivations behind the historic events of a still largely unresolved past, issues that continue to haunt past and present.

Spectres is produced with the support of Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds; Mu.zee (Ostend); CERA Partners in Art; Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels); KVS (Brussels); WIELS (Brussels); Vlaams-Nederlands Huis deBuren (Brussels); de Appel (Amsterdam); Marres (Maastricht); Flemish Community Commission, Brussels; Kunsthalle Bern; Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen; BUDA Kunstcentrum (Kortrijk); FLACC Workplace for Visual Arts (Genk); FRAC Bourgogne (Dijon); Fresnoy Studio national des arts contemporains (Tourcoing).

A substantial book published by ASA Publishers comprising reference documents, photos and explanatory texts accompanies the exhibition.

Kunsthalle Bern
Helvetiaplatz 1
CH-3005 Bern
Tuesday–Friday, 11 am–6pm
Saturday–Sunday, 10 am–6pm
T +41 (0)31 350 00 40
[email protected]

Image: Santu Mofokeng, “Torture Cell,” Ravensbrück, 2000. Courtesy Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg. © Santu Mofokeng.

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